Bolivian History

A Brief History
     Bolivia’s disheartening history after its independence in 1825 is characterized by a loss of half of its original territory, a resource curse of tin and a deflated national pride after losing access to the coastline. It remains one of two landlocked countries in the Western hemisphere, a condition that still haunts Bolivia’s economy today.
     The National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) party led the 1952 Bolivian revolution and its leaders, Víctor Paz Estenssoro and Hernán Siles Zuazo, took presidential office in 1952 and 1956, respectively. This government implemented the nationalization of tin mines, agrarian reform and universal suffrage in order to develop an economically disparate society. This wealth disparity was a by-product of the previous governing oligarchy run by a minority of wealthy mining companies. Debt and starvation overwhelmed Bolivian society during these policy changes, which led to U.S. food aid and IMF bailouts in the mid to late 50s. U.S.-supported de facto military governments and a sporadic fluctuating economy defined Bolivia’s 60s and 70s. Paz Estenssoro returned to the presidency as an old man in 1985 under the Left Revolutionary Movement (MIR) and found Bolivia in complete disarray. Within a month of taking office, Paz Estenssoro implemented a neoliberal-restructuring program called the New Economic Policy (NEP) and reversed many of the principles that he had previously endorsed during the MNR revolution of 1952. 
     This New Economic Policy (NEP) denationalized the mines and dismantled labor unions. As a result, Bolivian hyperinflation dropped from 20,000% to 9% and national debt decreased. International finance institutions, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), called this the "Bolivian Miracle." However, 23,000 of 30,000 miners lost their jobs. School teachers experienced similar rates of unemployment. Social welfare programs were also defunded in order to reduce debt. This trade-off brought a great deal of attention to the coca leaf industry, which is by far the country's largest illegal industry. Indigenous farmers hold much more economic power now than they did during the tin boom 60 years ago, plus ex-miners have entered the coca growing business. As a matter of fact, Bolivia's current president, Evo Morales, is Bolivia's first indigenous president and was voted in democratically. His implementation of the Law of Popular Participation (LPP) has given agrarian indigenous communities the ability to voice themselves politically in local and regional governments. However, there is more progress to be made in order to dismantle racial discrimination.

Meet The Author

Jarrod Zenjiro Suda | College of Letters and Science, Class of 2016 | University of California, at Berkeley | Major in Development Studies | Minor in Global Poverty and Practice |